Thursday, April 3, 2014

They Sure Grow Up Fast

Our little Frankensteins had already grown so much after two weeks that I moved them out of their little tub into a bigger container about twice the size of the original "brooder." They've got plenty of room to roam around and create havoc (for now). At two weeks their wings are nearly feathered. They have tiny tails sprouting and I'm already pretty sure we have at least one Orpington rooster in the bunch. The good news is that I'm fairly certain the other Orpington is a hen in comparison. They're tiny, cheeping balls of feather and fluff, but they'll be fully feathered pullets or roosters before long.

Meet the group. We have Peach and Luke (my son's a Star Wars fan) which are the Buff Orpingtons in the front. Then we have Wild Style and Eaglebones Falconhawk (Eaglebones for short), the two Ameraucanas.

Every time we "grow chicks" as I like to call it, I watch them incessantly to see which ones look like they're turning into roosters. We're pretty good at brooding chicks. Out of our three times with chicks, we've only ever had one die on us, and that one never fully made it out of the shell of its egg. However, we're also notorious raisers of roosters. Our first hatch resulted in ALL roosters. Our second hatch generated a pretty pair: one hen and one rooster. See why I'm on Rooster Watch 2014? Out of the four babies we have this time, one is already shaping up to be a rooster. One of the Orpingtons isn't feathering as fast as the other, a good sign he's a he. The one I'm fairly certain is a girl already has mostly-feathered wings and a little tail. The suspected roo only has half-feathered wings and no tail what so ever. If I'm correct, his comb will quickly start to turn pink and grow about twice as fast as the pullet's. It's not looking good. The Ameraucanas are a bit more tricky. They are harder to sex. They're feathering at the same pace and their combs are the same size so far. One is slightly bigger than the other, but that's not a sure fire sign by any means. After trolling the internet, I've found that most people can't tell their sex until much later than many other breeds. They're tricky like that. Whichever they are, my intuition is that they're the same. Cross your fingers for two hens. I want my blue eggs!

They seemed to get a thrill out of their outside time. They scratched around and checked things out, but they didn't go far. They mostly stayed together in one little area. 

I sat on the ground so I could watch them and take pictures and they didn't stray too far from me. Well, except Peach who thinks he's big stuff. He was ready to take charge with the big flock. They weren't impressed.

So far all is well. In another three weeks they'll be nearly feathered out and will look more like miniature chickens than the Frankensteins that they are now with their half fluff, half feathered selves. Now they still need to be kept warm with a heat lamp, so they'll stay in the kitchen for a while longer. They still have too much fluff to be able to regulate their own warmth. Once they feather out more, depending on the weather, we'll move them out into their own section of the run during the day. They'll probably spend a week or so with their days outside and their night back inside in the bin so they can slowly get acclimated to their new home and so the big girls can get used to having them around a little bit. Our babies sure are growing up!   

Saturday, March 29, 2014

New Peeps

It has been a long winter, longer than any others I can remember. We've had more snow that North Carolina should be allowed and the kids have been out of school more than their (or their parents') sanity can handle. I'm ready for spring. So what does a chicken keeper do when she's ready for spring? Get a bin of chicks to keep her busy until it actually gets here, of course.

After Pouncey died, I started thinking about new chickens. We'd already discussed adding a few to our flock at some point this year and now that we were a hen down, we'd definitely want to add a few. I like to add at least two when we're upping our numbers, so the newbie has a newbie buddy and isn't being thrown into the flock solo (That's just my preference and isn't some sort a scientific poultry rule by which you have to live). Seeing as it was February, there wasn't any broody hens vying to be a mama out in the coop, so I did what any crazy chicken lady would do and made my husband set up a brooder in our kitchen. And like any good crazy chicken lady's husband, he did it. Within three or four days of looking, I found some and brought home four chicks, two Buff Orpingtons and two Ameraucanas.

My son and I picked them up from Little Birdie Hatchery on a Friday and they'd hatched that Monday. They are the cutest little fluff balls I've ever seen. Look at their grumpy little faces.

In case you aren't familiar with chicks, the yellow chicks are the Buff Orpingtons and the brown chicks with the Cleopatra eyes are the Ameraucanas. Orpingtons are great dual purpose birds and are usually nice and fat and fluffy. They're like Brahmas in their fat fluffiness. The Ameraucanas I'm excited about because they're layers of pastel green or blue eggs. I want some blue eggs! Cross your fingers we have hens. They also have the cutest fluffy faces because they're the chickens that have "beards."

So we now have four fluffy chicks in a bin set up with food, water, shavings, and a heat lamp living in our kitchen for the next however many weeks it takes for them to feather out (realistically something like eight weeks).

They can't keep themselves warm without feathers. That fluff is cute, but it's pretty useless. Without a mama, these babies wouldn't last 24 hours outside right now. We've never tried our hand at brooding. We've had a hen take care of the hard work both times we've previously had chicks. This is going to be an adventure. We'll be learning a lot over the course of this endeavor.

So far I can report that they peep constantly, so constantly that I'm now hearing peeps even when they are not peeping or when I'm in a part of the house where I can't actually hear them. Chicks are tiny, but they've each got a good set of lungs. Trust me on this claim. If you aren't prepared to hear, "Peep! Peep! Peep!…PEEP! PEEP!" for weeks on end, leave the brooding up to your hens or make sure you have a garage or basement or some room where you can close the door and leave them to their own devices. I've mostly learned to block out the peeping at this point. We've now had the chicks for almost five weeks. As you can guess, it's been a busy five weeks, which is why I am just getting around to sharing our new peeps news. I've got a hundred pictures of these cuties from the past five weeks, so I'll be posting more over the next few weeks to get caught up on their progress. Spoiler alert: all four survived and are thriving.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Surviving Winter

It's been awhile. Longer than I realized. Plenty of things chicken and non-chicken related have happened between last fall and now. I won't bore you with all the details, but I'll hit a few of the chicken related highlights.

This winter we went an insane amount of time without eggs. I actually had to buy eggs. Twice. It was horrible. It was the first time I bought eggs since owning chickens. Ir resulted in frequent verbal threats on the flock for over a month. I kept telling them how delicious they looked and questioned why I was feeding them if they couldn't produce me any deliciousness. After awhile I gave up and left them to their own devices. Like everyone else in the country, we had a hard winter. We got more snow than we have in years and I'm sure the girls were using all their energy to stay warm. I'm happy to say we're back into fairly regular production mode now.

We're getting an egg or two a day, so I'm happy. I have all the makings for a delicious quiche this week, so I'm a happy Chicken Lady.

Our girls are not a fan of the winter. They hate the snow. During our first snow, some of the girls came out of the coop in the morning, walked around, looked at the snow, then turned right back around and headed back into the coop. They said screw this mess. We're done here. They kept pretty short outside hours. I can't blame them. It has been freezing out there. The second snow didn't seem to shock them as much. They spent a little more time outside, but it warmed up fairly quickly and the snow was gone a  few days later. I'm sure they were relieved. I sure was and I don't spend the majority of my time outside.

Everything is holding up well despite the weather. There are only a few little adjustments that need to be made to the coop and our chicken equipment. The locks we were using on the human-sized door to the run rusted out, so we've got carabiners taking their place. We stopped actually locking the locks quite awhile ago, years ago actually, so the carabiners may be a permanent replacement. They keep the door latched and that's what we need. I'd like to clean up the boards over the nest boxes, but only for appearance sake. They're a little frankenstein looking right now as my husband slapped a few boards up on a slant to put a stop to the girls sleeping on and pooping all over the flat board that was originally on top of the nesting boxes. The slanted board keeps them off, but it looks hideous. Maybe one day we'll get around to fixing that up. Otherwise, all we've got to replace is their big waterer. It's metal and after almost four years it's starting to rust. What can you expect? With any kind of animals you have to replace that kind of stuff every now and then.

The sad news about our flock is that we recently lost Pouncey, the beautiful Ameraucana that turned out to be more of a mutt with a beard. One day my husband when out to let the girls have some free range time in the yard and found her hunkered down in one of the corners where they take dust baths. When he noticed her feathers bowing in the wind, he knew something was up. He picked her up to see if she was okay only to find that she had passed away probably sometime that morning.

She was my favorite. Out of our three original girls, she was mine. I named her. I thought she was such a beautiful chicken. And I'll miss her.

On the bright side, this means I'm on the hunt for another chicken (or two) this spring. I've always wanted a blue or green egg-layer. Maybe I'll finally get one this year. I'm sure some people think I sound horrible jumping from my favorite chicken dying to my want for more chickens. The fact of the matter is chickens die. Pouncey lived a great life. She had plenty to eat. She had lots of time to free range and explore the yard. She was around other chickens. She lived a much better life than a lot of chickens who are slapped into tiny cages and do nothing but lay eggs for a year before they're culled to make room for the next younger, better egg layer. Our chickens are pets, but they're still chickens and they're still part of the life cycle. I can be happy knowing I gave her a good life. Now it's time for me to give some more chickens a good life.

Until then, good Chicken People.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Here a chick. There a chick. We don't have any chick-chicks.

I'm still in disbelief that we didn't have a broody hen this spring or summer. For the past two years our big mama, Erickson, has gone broody in June or July and we've hatched out some cute, fluffy baby chicks. Not this year. She must have decided she wasn't crazy enough to sit on a bunch of eggs in the heat for a month this go 'round.

I was ready this year too. I'd gone online and looked up a bunch of places that have fertile hatching eggs for sale. I wanted to get them local this year and try to hatch a breed we don't have. Something interesting. Something cool. I love the colored-egg layers or any chickens that have something unique about their appearance like a Polish or Silkie or Frizzle. I can think of at least a half dozen others I'd like to hatch out too, but I'll spare you my list. For now. I'd narrowed it down to couple of farms nearby, so I could order and pick up egg from whichever had them available when the time came. Well, I'm still waiting.

If you've even hatched chicks you know how fun it is. It's amazing watching a mama hen hatch eggs and the chicks are too cute for words. I love sitting by the coop while the little baby chicks peck around and figure things out. It's such a cool thing to get to watch them grow and become chickens. It's for all of those reasons I'm so sad we didn't get to experience chicks this year.

I don't know what the odds are of Erickson going broody next year after not being broody this past season. I'm hoping there's a shot. On the plus side for you guys, I'm going to find out when next spring rolls by and I'll be sure to share what happens. None of our other girls have ever been remotely interested in sitting, so I'm not holding my breath that anyone else will get to hatching. Keeping chickens has taught me not to count my chickens before they hatch. Literally. You don't know what you're going to get until it happens. I need to be better at not deciding what they're going to do before they do it. I know I shouldn't, but then I take something they do for granted (Erickson going broody) and I get schooled all over again.

Maybe no broody means I can convince my husband we should get already hatched chicks next year. Our local hardware store always has them in the spring. What am I talking about? He was completely against getting chickens in the first place and we've got nearly half a dozen chickens in the backyard now. We need to round that out to a full half dozen at least. I wonder when the hardware store usually has those chicks...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Week in Chickens

It's easy for me to get busy and not spend much time with the girls. My day job and six-year-old take up a lot of my time during the week. On top of that one of my son's chores is to check for eggs every day, so there are days when it's not necessary for me to go out to the coop at all. My husband has a more flexible work schedule, so he often has time in the mornings to let the girls out and spend some time with them in the yard. I generally let myself get tied up in household chores and wrangling my son into doing homework and taking a bath and all those types of fun things. So for a week I made a conscious effort to go out and spend at least a little time with the flock. It was some much needed therapy for me. I always enjoy sitting with them and watching them peck around their run or in the yard. I never get tired of watching them even three years into having hens. Here's some of our week. 

Monday: We had corn on the cob for dine and so did the girls. They love corn cobs. They can clean them off better than anything I've ever seen. No kernel is safe. 
There's Erickson in the front and Pouncey in the back.
Ocho and Belle are getting in on the action
Tuesday: I brought some scraps out for the little ladies spent some time sitting in the door to the back side of the run. I was quite popular. The Food Lady always is.

The hens and I. You know, like the King and I? 
Wednesday: Three little eggs all in a row. Thanks, girls!
The eggs were just like this when I found them. 
Their reward for the eggs. Sandwich crusts left by my six-year-old and some strawberry tops.
Thursday: Three of the flock. Now where are the others?

There they are. Caught in the act!

Friday: My little helper came out tonight to check for eggs. He wanted to check off one of his chores for the day. 

Saturday: A little treat. One of their favorites, cabbage. They aren't quite sure of it on the ground though. I usually put it in a suet feeder that I hang from the hardware cloth on the inside of the run. This hunk was too big to fit though, so on the ground it went. I checked a little later and it was gone, so they didn't mind floor food too much.

I just pitter pattered out there to see what they were up to and brought them some more cabbage. I went out barefoot, but in my dress pants from work. Now, that's my definition of urban chicken farming.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rain, Rain Go Away

We've gotten more than our share of rain this year. It's the first time in a long time that we're not in a drought. Usually we're under all kinds of water restrictions. Not this year. This year we've got more water than we know what to do with. As I mentioned recently, I started putting a tarp over the coop's run when the forecast calls for rain for more than one day in a row. It has helped immensely. The run is staying nice and fairly dry. The girls must be happier and they look a whole lot cleaner. I mean, it's hard to get a dust bath in a mud pit. 

It helps that we've finally had more dry days than rainy days in the past week and a half. It's a welcomed change for all of us. The girls like having more dry days because they get out more. I love our hens, but not enough to want to stand out in the rain so they can scratch around the yard. Sorry, girls. The other day after work, I let the girls roam around the yard for awhile. They'd been cooped up most of the week because I'd been out of town for work and my counterpart had a pretty crazy work schedule himself. They were quite overdue for a nice free ranging.
Pouncey, Bossy and Erickson's fluffy behind
Ocho, who had her mind on her money and her money on her mind
Belle, the usual loner, stayed a little ways away from everyone else.
Apparently, the fence was a prime scratching zone. The girls spent most of their time along this one stretch of fence between our yard and our neighbor's. After awhile I left them alone and went inside. They seemed too content to shove them back in the coop/run so quickly. The funny thing is that when I went out to close them up, three of the five were already back in the run. It figures. Of course they came running at me velociraptor style when I came out with the little container of scraps. A bribe is always the best answer to getting everyone back in the coop in a timely fashion. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Soggy Hens

It has rained here for nearly a week. When I say "rained" I mean poured down buckets, torrential downpours, thunder storms, rained cats and dogs, monsooned, and any other description of insane amounts of rain of which you can think. It has been ridiculous. Yesterday was the first day we haven't gotten rain since last week. We haven't had this much rain in longer than I can remember, if ever. We're usually in a drought this time of year, so the city restricts when you can water your plants and wash your car. Not this year. We could probably turn on the hose and let it run for a week and no one would notice. Rain is great. We need it. However, there is no way we need this much rain in this little amount of time. Our chickens are going to build a tiny canoe and paddle away if we keep up with this trend.

The run is a mess. It's muddy. It's stinky. The girls look dirty and gross. Now some of you are probably judging me and thinking our coop/run is poorly situated or has bad drainage or we don't keep it clean. Quite the contrary. Our coop is situated so water will drain away from it based on the slope of the yard. We clean it weekly and sometimes bi-weekly in hot weather to decrease any propensity for stinkiness and flies. When you get five inches of rain in two days, no one can keep a coop and run clean. Earlier this week I threw a tarp over the portion of the run that's only covered by hardware cloth. It's helped keep some of the rain out so the dirt doesn't get any wetter and muddier. I wish I'd thought of it a day or two earlier. Poor girls. Even the part of the run that's always covered by a roof is still fairly gross. With as much rain as we've had, it's impossible to keep it out entirely. I'm pretty sure it was raining sideways at some point. Now we have five fat dirty hens clucking around out there. This is the time when it stinks to have feather-footed girls. Their feet are muddy and they look a mess. Then the eggs get covered in nasty mud when they get in the laying boxes.

The girls are not happy about the weather situation. They haven't had a lot of free-ranging this week, so they've been cooped up. Luckily, they've still been laying pretty well. When we have lots of bad weather they usually get disgruntled and laying becomes skimpy. It's probably because we've felt sorry for them and have brought them a ton of treats. I've likely given them half a loaf of bread in the last week. They love their carbs and I'm a sucker when it comes to them being stuck outside in the elements.

Non-chicken owners roll their eyes and laugh at me. I know they're chickens and they've lived outside forever. And it's not like we have a high tech set up for our chickens or anything. We don't have electricity in the coop. We don't have automatic feeders or waterers or chicken coop doors. We don't have a heater or a waterer that has a defrosting mechanism. Our girls get the basics. A coop, a fenced in run, a hanging feeder, a hanging waterer, and a small chick waterer (We got one when we had chicks and the big girls loved it, so we just keep it out there for them and fill it up when it gets empty. Apparently, it has the best water because they drink it right up.). I still think of them as pets though and hate that they get stuck out in the rain or cold or snow and ice. If we had a garage I can bet you I'd have them in there in the snow and when we have torrential downpours. So what if I have a flock of spoiled chickens?

The thing chicken owners know is the more spoiled the chicken, the better the eggs!